Mangrove Blue Carbon for Climate Change Mitigation

NAIROBI, Oct 7 2021 (IPS) – Smelly, boggy, and full of bugs, mangroves’ superpowers are well hidden. However, there is rising confidence that mangroves are the silver bullet to combat the effects of climate change.

“Mangrove ecosystems are a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals and can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Dr Sevvandi Jayakody, a senior lecturer at Wayamba University of Sri Lanka, tells IPS.

A natural line of defence

Mangrove forests also act as a natural defence against storm surges, including mitigating the effects of cyclones and tsunamis, says Dr Nicholas Hardman‑Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Within this context, he says, Commonwealth countries are working together under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement made by all 54 member states, to actively work together to tackle ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

The Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group consists of 13 countries, including Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Guyana, Jamaica, Kenya, Maldives, Nigeria, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago Vanuatu, and the United Kingdom, is championed by Sri Lanka.

Hardman‑Mountford tells IPS that countries exchange knowledge centred on mangrove protection, management, and sustainability within the action group. Shared knowledge includes a wide range of topics, including policy, legislation, and regulatory frameworks.

Leveraging on the protective power of mangroves, Jayakody says that Sri Lanka is actively building its second line of defence. The country’s first line of defence, the reefs, were heavily compromised by the deadly 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami – one of the worst disasters in modern history, killing nearly 230 000 people across dozens of countries.

Such was the devastation that the government of Sri Lanka estimated losses of over $1 billion in assets and $330 million in potential output.

Worse still, approximately 35 000 people died or went missing. In Sri Lanka alone, property damage included 110 000 houses, of which 70 000 were destroyed. In all, at least 250 000 families lost their means of support.

Combatting the impacts of climate change

Experts say that mangroves have immense capacity to prevent such catastrophes and combat other devastating effects of climate change.

Bolstered by growing scientific evidence, Trinidad and Tobago, the dual-island Caribbean nation, has made significant strides in building its defence using mangroves.

Dr Rahanna Juman, Acting Director at the Institute of Marine Affairs, a government-funded research institute, tells IPS that in 2014, the government of Trinidad and Tobago commissioned an aerial survey of the country. Using this data, an estimate of carbon in mangrove forests across the country was ascertained.

“This information illustrated how mangrove and other hardwood forests could offset emissions and was incorporated into the Greenhouse Gas inventory of Trinidad and Tobago. Importantly, the survey conclusively demonstrated that mangrove forests store more carbon per hectare than other hardwood forests,” Juman expounds.

In 2020, the Institute of Marine Affairs received funding from the British High Commission to fund a mangrove soil carbon assessment project involving Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

Dr Juman indicates that the assessment found that “the amount of carbon in the mangrove soil was many times larger than the amount of carbon above the ground. This is an assessment that could be replicated in other Commonwealth countries because we have developed a low-cost technique of undertaking this important assessment.”

Adding that Mangroves are starting to be incorporated into the United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) programme, which means countries could potentially earn money from protecting and restoring mangroves.

Mangrove blue carbon

Meanwhile, Hardman‑Mountford cites various challenges in exploring blue carbon because it is still an evolving area of science and policy.

Sri Lanka understands this challenge all too well. After the Tsunami, Jayakody says that the government launched vast mangrove restoration projects covering over 2 000 hectares in partnership with other agencies.

Due to limited information on mangroves, she tells IPS that a majority of these projects failed. Undeterred and leveraging on scientific research over the years, Sri Lanka is today a success story in restoring and conserving mangrove cover estimated at 19 600 hectares.

Other challenges facing countries keen on mangrove blue carbon include a lack of protection for mangroves because approximately 75 percent of mangrove forests globally remain unprotected and overexploited.

Over the years, Jayakody indicates that mangroves have been at a very high risk of destruction because their power to prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, and provide livelihoods for coastal communities through fisheries was not fully understood.

Hardman‑Mountford agrees, adding that mangrove forests have declined globally with a loss of between 30 to 50 percent over the past 50 years from over-harvesting, pollution, agriculture, aquaculture, and coastal development.

The Commonwealth has a huge role to play in reversing this decline. Overall, there are 47 Commonwealth countries with a coastline.

“Nearly 90 percent of Commonwealth countries with a coast have mangroves, and at least 38 of these countries with mangroves have provided some level of protection to their mangroves. In all, 16 countries have protected about half or more of their mangroves,” he says.

Mangroves
Image credit: Joyce Chimbi/IPS

This is a challenge that Sri Lanka is successfully overcoming. With an estimated 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka living along the coastline, Jayakody says that there was an urgent need to protect both livelihoods and coastlines from further degradation.

“In 2015, Sri Lanka established the National Mangrove Expert Committee, and through that, all mangroves were mapped. More so, several new areas were brought under protection, and there have been relentless efforts to improve the communities’ understanding of the importance of mangrove ecosystem,” she says.

Further, Sri Lanka recently validated the Best Practice Guidelines on the Restoration of Mangroves in Sri Lanka and the national mangrove action plan, in line with the mangrove policy adopted in 2020.

Other countries making strides in the right direction include the Australian government’s involvement with blue carbon and especially ongoing efforts to build capacity in blue carbon science, policy and economics through multi-sectoral partnerships.

“To support its efforts in blue carbon advocacy and outreach, the Australian government launched the International Partnership for Blue Carbon (IPBC) at the UNFCCC CoP in Paris in 2015,” says Ms Heidi Prislan, a Blue Charter Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Australia is also one of the 28 countries that refer specifically to the mitigation benefits of carbon sequestration associated with coastal wetlands in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. In comparison, 59 other countries mention coastal ecosystems as part of their adaptation strategies.

To increase opportunities for blue carbon to participate in the national emissions reduction scheme, the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Australian government has supported research into potential mitigation methodologies that could be implemented to generate carbon credits from domestic projects.

Equally important, she says that Commonwealth member countries have collectively made 44 national commitments to protect or restore mangroves.

As the world stares at a catastrophe from the devastating effects of climate change, the massive potential of blue carbon and, more so, mangrove blue carbon to bolster climate change adaptation, mitigation and resilience efforts can no longer be ignored.

This article was originally published by IPS.

How space tech is aiding mangrove conservation in the Commonwealth

Powerful satellites orbiting hundreds of miles above Earth are helping some Commonwealth countries save and restore vital mangrove ecosystems while combatting climate change.

Officials from Trinidad and Tobago and Sri Lanka recently shared how they are using sophisticated earth-imaging technology to gather valuable data on the coverage, health and changes in the features of mangroves along their coastlines and rivers.

The information is critical to stemming the rapid disappearance of mangroves worldwide, with 30 to 50 per cent of these marine ecosystems lost mainly to deforestation over the last 50 years.

The data is also key to understanding mangroves’ capacity to capture and store away carbon from the atmosphere – the main driver of climate change.

Country experiences

Countries shared their experiences during an online event organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat to mark International Mangrove Day on 26 July, which also included insights from Planet, a world leader in satellite imagery technology.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at the Foreign Ministry of Sri Lanka, Hasanthi Dissanayake, highlighted:

“Sri Lanka became a global leader in mangrove restoration and conservation after the devastating impacts of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. We learnt from the experience and have spearheaded the conservation in our country and across the Commonwealth.”

The country has since advanced in strides, championing the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods since 2018, establishing a cross-sectoral Mangrove Taskforce and adopting a national policy on the conservation and sustainable use of mangroves in 2020.

The Director of the Biodiversity Secretariat at the Ministry of Environment, Pathma Abeykoon, also shared how satellite technology is used to track changes to mangrove ecosystems over time, in addition to modelling disasters and mapping vulnerable areas for disaster preparation, management and recovery.

Mitigating climate change

In Trinidad and Tobago, scientists at the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) combined several different layers of data in order to learn how to manage mangroves sustainably, and study its role as a carbon ‘sink’.

“Mangrove forests actually store something like four times more carbon than terrestrial forests,” explained Nikia Gooding, a geospatial research fellow at the country’s Institute of Marine Affairs.

“If we’re able to understand how much carbon is stored and sequestered in these forests, then we can start an argument as to why they should be conserved and protected, because it’s one of the ways for us to mitigate against climate change.”

The IMA has been using a combination of aerial and satellite imagery, the most recent Google Earth imagery, LandSat data produced by American Space Agency (NASA) and other sources to monitor mangrove ecosystems in Trinidad and Tobago over a 25-year period from 1994 to 2019. The findings were published earlier this year.

Data sets from 3-D laser scans and physical measurements of mangroves, soil analysis and carbon testing, are also being used to accurately quantify the carbon stored in mangrove forests, both above and below the ground.

Ms Gooding highlighted the benefits of free online and virtual training modules offered through Commonwealth Blue Charter which trains mangrove technicians and managers on the use of GIS tools to map mangroves and contribute to policy development.

Democratising data

Presenting the vast applications of satellite data, Planet’s Strategic Accounts manager for the EMEA region, Mark Richardson, said: “At Planet, we collect massive amounts of data, every single day. We want to democratise access to our imagery and fundamentally that means ensuring those people who need it the most are able to access those data.”

A frontrunner in the field, Planet uses 180 small satellites to scan and produce images of the Earth every day at a 3-metre resolution, with 21 larger satellites scanning at 50 centimetre resolution. At last, 20 terra bytes of data are downloaded from the satellites every single day.

This data has been used by a wide range of stakeholders, including mangrove researchers focusing on ‘blue carbon’, habitat mapping and protection, and storm impacts.

Adviser and Blue Charter lead at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Jeff Ardron, said: “One of the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter is to bring countries together, along with other action-oriented partners, to share experiences and discuss solutions to common challenges.

“These include new approaches that take advantage of emerging and low-cost technologies to build resilience of local communities.”

The webinar was part of an ongoing series focused innovative solutions and best practices being implemented by the 10 country-led Action Groups of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

About Commonwealth Blue Charter Training opportunities

The Commonwealth Blue Charter during 2020, pivoted from in-country training events to the virtual and self-paced programmes. Since mid-2020 the Commonwealth Blue Charter has trained over 300 government officials and scientists across eight topics, including Mangrove Mapping for Managers and Technicians. These courses are free and aim to help Action Group members gain new skills or enhance existing ones.

Over the coming months further modules will become available, relating to coral reef mapping, blue carbon, blue economy and sustainable coastal fisheries.

To keep up-to-date with online training opportunities and events subscribe to the Commonwealth Blue Charter newsletter.

Secretary-General hails progress on mangrove action

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland celebrated new in-roads made by Sri Lanka, chair of the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter Action Group on mangroves, by planting a mangrove plant in the country’s famous Koggala Lagoon.

The area is home to 10 out of the 22 true mangrove species found in Sri Lanka, and the site of extensive mangrove restoration efforts involving local communities, businesses and the government.

With about a quarter of the population living on 1300km of coastline, Sri Lanka’s mangroves are vital for the safety and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Ms Scotland said: “I am very pleased and proud that Sri Lanka has made the decision to lead the Blue Charter Group on mangroves.

“This work is going to be of pivotal importance if we are to achieve the aspirations set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, for reducing carbon and turning our globe into somewhere which is truly sustainable for our children in the future.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement made by all 53 member states to work actively together to tackle ocean-related challenges.

Currently, twelve ‘champion countries’ lead nine action groups made of like-minded nations, who pursue joint strategies and action on issues like marine pollution, climate change andcoral reef restoration.

Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods, which held its first meeting last month in Negombo.

Members include Sri Lanka (Champion), Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and the UK.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HasanthiUrugodawatte Dissanayake, said: “Since holding our action group’s inaugural meeting on 7-9 October, Sri Lanka has demarcated 14,000 hectares of land which includes thousands of hectares to be allocated for mangroves.

“Above all, it is creating a common understanding of contribution of mangrove ecosystems to livelihoods and as a carbon sink.”

The country also made a voluntary commitment at the global ocean summit recently held in Oslo, Norway – the ‘Our Ocean’ conference – to identify all potential suitable areas for mangrove restoration and design a way to replant trees in these areas by 2030.

Sri Lanka also plans to expand its task force for mangrove restoration to engage all stakeholders from government, private sector and community based organisations.

The Secretary-General’s visit was hosted by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and the INSEE Cement Company – a green cement producer currently carrying out mangrove planting of around 4,500 plants in the Koggala Lagoon area.

Commonwealth action group on mangroves meets in Sri Lanka

Commonwealth countries are meeting this week in Negombo, Sri Lanka to decide on a work plan to help save the world’s mangroves.

The plan includes joint actions, projects and funding strategies for the short and medium term.

The activity is part of the work carried out under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all 53 Commonwealth countries to actively co-operate to solve ocean-related challenges and meet global commitments on sustainable ocean development.

The Blue Charter works through voluntary action groups led by ‘champion countries’, who rally around issues such as marine pollution and the sustainable blue economy.

Home to over 19,000 hectares of mangroves, Sri Lanka champions the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group (MELAG). To date, nine other Commonwealth countries have joined MELAG, including Australia, Bangladesh, Vanuatu, Bahamas, Nigeria, Jamaica, Kenya, United Kingdom, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Sri Lanka’s Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change Hasanthi Urugodawatte Dissanayake said: “Given that Sri Lanka is ranked number 2 on the Global Climate Risk index in 2019, it is natural that Sri Lanka has stepped forward as champion of the MELAG.

“The first meeting of the MELAG has allowed Commonwealth members to share experiences and expertise to compliment global efforts in the protection and restoration of mangroves.”

The workshop highlights the importance of mangroves – which generate far-reaching environmental and economic benefits – as a global ocean issue.

Aside from being a habitat and nursery grounds for various plants and animals, mangrove ecosystems can absorb three to four times more carbon than tropical upland forests, helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. Mangroves prevent coastal erosion, protect shorelines, while also providing livelihoods for coastal communities, through fisheries and ecotourism.

However, more than half of global mangrove cover has been lost over the last 50 years, partly due to extreme pressure from human activities.

Commonwealth Adviser Heidi Prislan, who co-organised the event, said: “Several Commonwealth member states have very large areas of mangrove. This means that action taken to protect and restore mangroves in the Commonwealth will have a significant global impact.”

Activities being planned for the group include developing a database of mangrove ecosystems in the Commonwealth, sharing technical know-how and best practices on mangrove restoration, and strengthening community partnerships and legal frameworks.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.

 

 

Sri Lanka’s trauma of tsunami turns into a defence for tomorrow

It is hard to imagine that only 14 years ago Sri Lanka was severely devastated by the tsunami, triggered by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean.

Its waves submerged the southwestern part of Sri Lanka, killing tens of thousands and destroying the infrastructure.

But there is a lesson to be learnt here. Had Sri Lankans realised that through the destruction of a natural form of defence by chopping down the mangroves, it is unlikely they would have taken this course of action.

For today, Sri Lankans are resolute about one thing when it comes to the protection of their environment: mangroves have to grow, have to be nurtured and have to be respected to protect this invaluable ecosystem.

So it was that Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland visited the country’s Kalpitiya Coastal Environmental Centre.  What she saw was nothing short of a miracle; the country’s mangrove conservation and replanting programme.

Where once local communities little realised the value of mangroves, today men, women and young children have taken ownership. Their united goal is clear: to reduce the impact of natural disasters like tsunamis. It was, said the Secretary-General, who planted five baby mangroves, a perfect case study of regenerative development to tackle climate change.

B H J Premathilake, Duty Director of Sri Lanka’s Coast Conservation Department termed the 2004 tsunami as a “driver” for the country’s scheme to protect all mangroves and to build back better.

“During the 2004 tsunami, we understood that mangrove ecosystem can play a vital role to protect people and their resources. Mangroves absorb and reduce the height and intensity of high waves. It holds a particular significance at the current times when temperature continues to increase and climatic catastrophes become more frequent and disastrous,” he said.

The Secretary-General congratulated Sri Lanka on its commitment to turn the trauma of climate change to a defence of global significance.

“We owe Sri Lanka a huge debt of gratitude because what their work to conserve mangroves will save our tomorrow,” she said. “After the tsunami, we all realised the importance of mangroves as a real protection for the coastline. What Sri Lanka has done since the tsunami to preserve, understand and restoring mangroves not only keeps Sri Lanka safe but it really is a signal to how we keep our world safe. The fact that communities [in Sri Lanka] are planting these mangroves, care for them, growing them, it gives me hope that we have a future.”

In April this year, Sri Lanka stepped forward to lead a Commonwealth action group on mangrove restoration, as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

The country now incubates a series of programmes which alleviates poverty as well as involves the community to protect mangroves.

“We started working on mangrove restoration programme with a vision to inspire communities to take the lead,” Mr Premathilake said. “The work included creating awareness about mangroves and showing locals the economic benefits of protecting mangroves. The programmes bring income to local people by promoting ecotourism in the mangroves areas. The financial factor encourages locals to take the ownership of this process,” he concluded.

The scheme is supported by the government and includes a combination of laws, regenerative development models and re-growing mangroves. It has formed part if the school curriculum, creating a future generation of environmental champions. The officials are hopeful that other Commonwealth countries will follow in their footsteps and adapt the lessons Sri Lanka has learnt on the way.